Musician / Artist / Marketer
Aaron Wirtz is a blitz of performance and self expression. Under the pseudonym "CutterJ the Absurdist" he infuses music, multimedia, and theatre to sculpt a stage show all his own.
Utilizing his unique skill set Aaron is also a Used Car TV Spokesman for Super Car Guys.
How do you put into words your CutterJ the Absurdist project?
I describe CutterJ as an electronic music, video, and performance art project. Electronic music and video are the foundation, and I do theatre on top of that. There are elements of pre-recorded video, live video, original music productions, tap dancing, electric spoons, singing and some talk-box. Generally people refer to me as the tap dancing DJ—that tends to be the element that they remember...or the spoons.
Universal truth: when you play the spoons during a DJ set, wether people enjoy it or not they will watch you. They will stop what they are doing and watch you. The first time I discovered that was at the Vagabond. I put a song on, sat at one of the tables, and started playing the spoons. The whole place went nuts, which was a nice little discovery. People are receptive to a DJ that is going to take extra effort to do something a little different, one willing to try and break the wall of the persona, to get out from behind the turntables and do something else. Same thing with tap dancing, although it took me a little while longer to get the courage to make that happen.
Does the extra effort ever come at a cost?
The first gig I incorporated video into was at this camp called “Resonance,” it’s like a Burning Man themed camp. I had to carry all this crap, all this gear that I bring to gigs. It was like a half mile trek into this forest and it was at that specific moment it occurred to me... “This is why people don’t try to do different things.” Doing something different or breaking the format is often just a pain in the ass. It’s a pain in the ass… I could have brought my laptop and plugged it into what everyone else was plugging in to, and I’m not knocking that. Having a slightly larger setup requires more of a physical investment. I got a cart after that.
With all this digital equipment is CutterJ constantly evolving?
A big part of CutterJ is me trying to merge two worlds. Pushing technology to its limit, its creative potential, but also making sure that the human element is as necessary and as engaging as the technological element. Fusing those two worlds is important to what I’m doing. I’d like to give a shout out to John Harrison, the concert master of the Wichita Symphony, who is also an absolute technological genius. He came over one night after seeing a show of mine. This was still in the turntable days, but I was doing stuff like the vocoded tap dance routine, where I was sending the microphone signal from the tap board into the microKorg while the MPC was telling the microKorg which notes to play. He was impressed. He came over and taught me the fundamentals of how to do basic things with the open source software Pure Data and showed me resources online that I could use to teach myself. That was a HUGE turning point. To have that little boost into a world I would have thought was way above my skill level or capabilities was revolutionary. I’ve never considered myself someone who has potential for computer programming, and while I don’t consider Pure Data to be computer programming, it’s one step closer to that. It's all about starting with nothing and achieving these ideas there is no gear for. Everything that I feel defines my show technologically, the stuff that is impressive, it is all achieved through Pure Data. It’s an incredible tool, and though it has a steep learning curve, I can be very strong-willed when it comes to teaching myself things that I want to know.
"People are receptive to a DJ that is going to take extra effort to do something a little different, one willing to try and break the wall of the persona, to get out from behind the turntables and do something else."
CutterJ performance inside the Empire House at Old Cowtown - February 27th, 2015
Can you recall your first memories of self-expression?
From a pretty young age I developed a love of writing and journaling. In 4th and 5th grade I had a wonderful teacher named Ms. Eaton, she was very encouraging. For the longest time I wanted to be a writer as a result of her encouragement, I have my masters degree in Creative Writing. I was simply writing poems, short stories, not only putting my heart and soul into it, but actually hearing positive feedback. I knew not everyone else was receiving it. I would spend hours at night writing poems or song lyrics, whatever. The intimacy of having a notebook and that being my universe, that was huge for me, that’s where I started to figure out how I felt about things.
When was the transition from personal writing to making music?
Freshman year in High School I knew a guy named David Lord (founder of The Wonder Revolution, Air House Music Academy, and Air House Records). I was aware he played guitar and he knew I wrote poetry. I let him read some of my poems and we got together Halloween night of our Freshman year in high school. That would have been 1996. It was really the most magical experience of my entire life. Down there in the basement I had some lyrics, he came up with some chords, and we made a song… It’s hard to describe that feeling of wonder and possibility. Out of this thing that I had and this thing that he had, we came together and made something new that was ours. We started a band, found a drummer and a bassist, and called ourselves “The Media.” At the time I was anti-TV and the dumbing down of America. I was a pretty angry adolescent. Thank goodness I had an outlet where I could scream and it was ok. Some of that stuff is a little silly but at the time I really meant it. Having the band as an outlet kept me on track 100%.
“I was a pretty angry adolescent. Thank goodness I had an outlet where I could scream and it was ok."
Rapid flap heel tap dance practice. The tap board has a piezo contact microphone placed on it, each tap triggers a point of in video.
How on earth did you end up a Used Car Spokesman?
I was near the end of my second year in grad school and the pay check as a GTA was less than $200 a week—that’s hard to live on. Suzuki of Wichita was looking for a social media manager and made this job sound incredible, “All the Apple products you could want, company car…” made it sound so cool. “You get to make videos and manage Facebook,” and I thought, man, this sounds like something I'd be into. I made a video resume and there was even some CutterJ type of stuff in that video. They loved it, and honestly I don’t think I’m exaggerating that it’s because of this CutterJ project that I have the job that I have today.
I started as a social media manager for about a year and then moved into more of a marketing type of role. Although, Scott Pitman, the owner of the dealership, he is the marketing powerhouse. I have some input but he’s where the magic comes from as the organization goes on. They wanted to do more of an advertising push for Super Car Guys, which only had one location at the time, so they were looking around for this person that could be the spokesperson. Originally we’d asked some radio DJ’s and they couldn’t do it because of their agreement with the radio stations. It turned to this roaming finger of… “Oh! Aaron how about this?!”
Originally, the idea was that I’d be wearing some sort of Super Hero mask, and I thought I’d be able to fly under the radar. As you can imagine, wearing one of those Robin type of eye masks ends up looking kind of trashy and perverted. It just looked bad, it covered so much of my face and we lost out on all the facial expressions. The day of the first commercial shoot, I had my suit and I was all ready to go, we decided the mask just wasn’t going to work.
For me, since I wasn’t working towards a career as a TV spokesperson, I just decided I’m just going to do this and see where it goes. It’s been a lot of fun.
Were you ever concerned of people's perceptions?
It’s taking some getting used to, seeing some of the tweets that come in. People tweet about all sorts of things, including my wedding ring. I used to have the Twitter notifications on when a tweet would come in and I had to turn that off. People say some nasty things as you can imagine, but that has always been offset by the amount of in-person feedback I get, whether it’s at the dealership or out in public, encouragement from people that I can tell genuinely love those commercials. I finally feel like I’m at a good place with it. It’s a job, it’s a role that I get to play, and it’s done good things as far as earning a paycheck and having a little fun. There have been a lot of good lessons in that, just about the roles in life that we have to play. Thinking about the two worlds, “Used Car TV Spokesman” and “Music/Video Performance Artist,” it’s been an interesting challenge to creatively reconcile those two roles, but it’s out of my internal conflicts that my best work gets done. I’m not here to follow what anyone else defines as the “artist’s path.” The coffee shop and the art gallery can be some of the most restrictive environments on earth when it comes to expressing one’s true self.
What has been the reaction of your peers in the arts community?
In Wichita, it’s been nothing but open doors and that’s what I love so much, especially now. I haven’t done those car commercials for very long, but people in the arts scene don’t bat an eye that I’m also a used car TV spokesman. I love that.
In Wichita I sometimes get to have an enormously diverse set of experiences within a single day. I get to interact with people in the marketing community for instance, people in the automotive industry, people in the in the music scene, people in the art, dance, and theatre scenes and people that kind of bounce around in all of those. That’s what I need. I don’t need to constantly be around a bunch of “creatives” all the time—that becomes a little bit stale after a while. It’s nice to have other perspectives, too.
"As you can imagine, wearing one of those Robin type of eye masks ends up looking kind of trashy and perverted."
Aaron acting in a Super Car Guys television commercial - August 2014
How does Wichita compare to other cities?
Wichita is a wonderful place to live and to work on the things that I want to work on. From a creative standpoint, Wichita is a lot like the terrain of Kansas in that it’s kind of a wide open nothingness. That’s not a bad thing—it’s this wide open canvas that we have to fill with our own meaning. On the other hand, because of that lack of structure we have very strong raw ideas and often lack the professional polish. Other cities where the raw creative energy isn’t really there, they do have that commercial polish. The shows are tight every time, the sound is right, they’ve got their merch game going, they’ve got their online presence, and they have to in order to exist in such a competitive environment. There is good and bad in both of those scenarios. That professional polish is what we are often missing as a city creatively, but for people that are wanting to get started with a creative pursuit, I don’t know if there is a better place. If you want to hang an art show in Wichita, there is somewhere to hang it. If you want to play a gig, there is somewhere to play it. It doesn’t matter your level of expertise or who you know, there is a real sense of people wanting to help people. As far as figuring out who you are and what you want to do, this is a great place.
It feels like maybe we’re at an age where we’re becoming the leaders or something and that’s kind of a cool place to be. It’s nice to come up in a conversation and it’s nice to be thought of for this or that. Good work can be done right here. It’s abstract but it really feels like there is quite a bit of momentum where people are not only talking being creative but actually doing interesting, creative things.
"It doesn’t matter your level of expertise or who you know, there is a real sense of people wanting to help people."
What recently is inspiring you in Wichita?
I’m very excited about the Make ICT group receiving a $100,000 grant from the Wichita Community Foundation. I’m so pumped for them. What a group of great, genuine guys that really know their stuff.
I see Make ICT being one of the leading maker spaces in the country, easily. With what they have going on, their mindset... that’s been a good reminder for me to follow the order of operations. For them, it wasn’t “Oh let’s start a maker space so we can get a big grant, get some articles in the paper, and blow up huge,” it was “let’s do some things that we love, out of a genuine interest for making Wichita a better place to live.” It’s amazing. That has been very inspiring to me, to see people come together, make something happen, start making some noise, and really teaching some current, relevant things. That’s what’s next, 3D printing, hacking, all kinds of things. To think now that’s something any kid in Wichita could have access to—I just love that idea.